Alistair Begg

How Does the Bible Talk about Sin?

One of the strategies of the Evil One is to try and convince us that sin is no big deal. He wants to convince us that “sin” is just a handful of harmless things that prudish church people don’t like. He says, “Nobody knows. Nobody sees. And even if they do, it doesn’t matter, because no one will be hurt.” Don’t believe that for a second. God is opposed to sin—its state and its acts—not because it is distasteful but because it is murderous and destructive (James 1:14–15).

Sin is a word and concept that many Christians have grown so familiar with that they risk forgetting all that it means. Like a word we’ve turned over in our minds so many times that it has begun to seem unreal, the idea of sin can seem totally disconnected from our experience. We need sometimes to be reminded of what sin is and of its real, destructive power.
Sin is not merely a word for a bad deed. It is primarily a condition, a state of being. “Sin,” says the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.”1 It is an “estate whereinto man fell” that can be properly described as “a corruption of his whole nature … together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.”2 Sin, in other words, describes the way human beings are, and it describes what they do as a result—and its most basic feature is that it puts human beings at odds with God and His good design.
One way we can help ourselves to see the reality behind a word is to examine the words that are nearest to it in meaning. The New Testament uses a number of terms to describe what we call sin. Understanding some of the most common ones can help remind us of sin’s many facets and why its impact on our life is so significant.
Five New Testament Words for “Sin”
Aside from a few Aramaic and Hebrew words and phrases, the New Testament was written in Koine Greek. Drawing from this language, the biblical writers used five words in particular that give us a strong picture of what sin is.
First, there is hamartia, which is most often translated as simply “sin.” This word can describe sin in all its forms. Etymologically, it portrays a picture from archery of having missed the target. It is because of our hamartia that we have all fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), failing to live up to the standard for which we were made. In our fallen nature, we sin and are in sin because we are not (yet) what we ought to be.
Second, there is parábasis, which is often translated “transgression.” This word describes willful sin that is a particular violation of God’s standards of righteousness. It means a stepping across the line. If God has drawn a line in the sand by giving us His law, then human beings have deliberately crossed it by breaking the law. People sin and are in sin because they know what they ought to do, and they do otherwise.
Third, there is paraptōma, which is translated a number of ways, including, “sin,” “trespass,” and “offense.” Historically, its meaning carries the idea of slipping up or falling away.
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Abiding in Christ in a World of Self-Love

Self-care, self-talk, self-esteem, and the like can only take us as far as the self will go, and they will only be as dependable as the self can be—which is to say, not very dependable at all. But when we find our value, our confidence, our joy by turning our gaze to the Savior who died for us and welcomed us into His family, then we will have hope “as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Heb. 6:19). 

In the psychological realm, the word of our age is self. From self-care to self-talk to self-esteem, hardly a day passes when broadcasts, podcasts, podiums, and even pulpits fail to remind us that our fundamental problem is a dearth of self-regard. And the answer, we are told, lies in telling ourselves that we are lovable: “It doesn’t matter what I do. It doesn’t matter who I am. I am a lovable person.”
Despite this emphasis within our culture, it is a startling fact that the Bible contains no positive, explicit teaching about self-regard as it is propounded by our contemporaries. It is totally absent! And if we believe that the Scriptures contain “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), then we need to be prepared to see how God’s Word adjudicates the emphases of our culture rather than passively allowing those emphases to govern our understanding of the Scriptures.
The fact is that we are living in a culture which prescribes as a cure what the Bible describes as a sickness: “In the last days there will be times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self” (2 Tim. 3:1–2). In an age of anxiety and despair, the self-regard the world promises will help us ultimately only adds to the difficulty. Christ, too, promises us confidence, assurance, contentment, and, yes, love—but none of these is a gift that we can grant ourselves from the well of our own resources. Instead, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:5, “each one will receive his commendation from God.”
In what follows in 1 Corinthians 4:6–7, Paul addresses the dangers of self-regard and, through a series of questions, seeks to reframe the Corinthians’ thinking accordingly. Whereas self-love endangers Christian communion by causing people to put themselves before others, Christian love engenders a spirit of humility before God, who is the source of our being, our value, and our joy.
The Problem: Pride
“I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.” (1 Cor. 4:6)
The first-century Corinthian believers to whom Paul wrote had a problem with pride. They were proud of everything. They were proud of their intellects, and they were proud of their teachers. Even those spiritual gifts that God had given became an opportunity to puff their chests up as they walked about. It was a dreadful problem within the church—and where that kind of wrong perspective persists, disunity establishes a stronghold among God’s people.
To this point in the letter, Paul has been addressing the problem of factions and favoritism in Corinth, where some said, “I follow Paul,” and others, “I follow Apollos” (1 Cor. 1:12). He and Apollos were not agitators of disunity. Both preached the same Gospel! But in a trumped-up opposition between the two preachers, many of the Corinthians found an opportunity to express their own “jealousy and strife” (1 Cor. 3:3), which came from a sense that they were wise in themselves (1 Cor. 3:18).
Thus Paul set out to correct the Corinthians by teaching them that “the word of the cross is … the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). The wisdom of the world says that we ought to lift ourselves up—that we ought to look within ourselves for encouragement and strength. But the wisdom of God is to glory in the cross—to marvel at the humiliation and death of Christ.
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Following Jesus Means Trusting the Father’s Provision

If we’re going to seek the kingdom of God, it will mean ceding control over every aspect of our life to God. He is not interested in becoming second-in-command in our little armies. He is King and Lord, and He seeks the throne of our heart. When He sits on that throne, wealth and possessions cannot sit there too. God’s kingdom is a greater treasure than any we can lay hold of in this world. When we value it as we ought, we’ll find a satisfaction for our souls that outlasts all worldly gain.

Jesus Christ’s teaching about possessions is radical. It confronts both the selfish society in which we live and the sleeping church, which has so often gone with the flow of the world’s anxieties and greed. If the church is to be a shaft of light in the world’s darkness, then those who follow Christ will need to demonstrate a godly outlook toward worldly goods by embracing an absolute trust in the Father’s provision.
What does it mean to follow Jesus? As one prayerfully continues in obedient faith and identifies with Christ in His suffering and self-giving love, it will also mean setting aside materialism for something that truly satisfies.
On one occasion, a man asked Jesus to adjudicate a family dispute about an inheritance. Because it was not a part of His mission, Jesus flatly denied the man’s request (Luke 12:13–14). But then He followed His response with a parable warning against greed and a sermon exhorting His disciples to put God first. We can learn from both as we seek to follow Him too.
A Parable Against Greed
He said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:15–21)
In Luke 12:15, Jesus lays down a foundational principle regarding worldly goods: “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Neither wealth nor the things it can buy define a person. The problem, of course, is that we often live as though they do. And of course, greed and covetousness are not exclusive to those who have much. Even those who aren’t well off can worship and pursue material wealth in their own way, as can the moderately comfortable.
No matter our station, then, we ought to ask ourselves the question that this parable confronts us with: “Do I live as if my life consists in the abundance of my possessions?” For the rich man in the parable, the answer is clearly yes—and three perils accompany his outlook.
First, the rich man does not know himself. He fails to realize that he is more than a stomach that needs to be filled, an appetite that needs to be satisfied. He fails to realize that his purpose in life is to be rich toward God by glorifying and enjoying Him.1 Many people who have “made it” in our society are actually quite miserable because all that they have acquired and achieved does not touch the deepest longings of their lives. The rich man’s full barns can feed his body for a few seasons, but they have no power to nourish his soul.
Second, the rich man never sees beyond himself. His speech is peppered with the personal pronouns “I” and “my.” He’s like the lady of whom it was said, “Edith lived in a little world bounded on the north, south, east and west by Edith.”2 And because he cannot look beyond himself, his attitude is a refusal of the way of Christ. Instead of finding joy in denying himself, he aggressively affirms himself. Instead of finding joy in giving, he seeks it in keeping. He is like “the kings of the Gentiles” mentioned elsewhere by Jesus, who “lord it over them” (Luke 22:25, NIV). The Lord Jesus would have us be like Him instead, as people who serve (vv. 26–27).
Third, the rich man never sees beyond this world. This man’s great tragedy is that while he is prepared for worldly ups and downs, he isn’t prepared for God’s judgment.
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What Does the Name Jesus Mean?

If you have been brought face-to-face with your sin and have come to believe that Jesus is your Savior, no name will be more precious to you than His. Though at one time you may have held Him at arm’s length, despised Him as nothing more than a profanity, or even thought that you could save yourself through good works, the name, the person, and the work of Jesus have now become dear, for you have drawn near to Him and experienced His compassion, kindness, and mercy.

When the angel visited Mary and Joseph to announce the birth of the Messiah, he gave clear instructions concerning the child’s name: “You shall call his name Jesus” (Matt. 1:21; Luke 1:31). Christ has many glorious names: King, Creator, Lord, Judge, Son of God, Son of David, Master, I Am, the First and the Last, etc. But the angel commanded that a very specific name be given Him at His birth—and we may wonder at the intention behind that choice. Why “Jesus”?
The name itself was not an unusual name. In fact, it is the Hellenized version of the Old Testament name Joshua. In Hebrew, it is Yeshua, and simply translated, it means “The Lord saves.” So of all the glorious names He might have been given, the name that would mark out the incarnate Son of God would be that which describes Him as Savior. Jesus’ name communicates His purpose: “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). As Peter would later proclaim, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
While Jesus’ name and ministry invite people into grace, many do not respond to Jesus Himself with warmth. His name is precious, yet so many treat it as peripheral, or even profane. During this Christmas season, then, we ought to ask ourselves, “What does the name Jesus mean to me?”
Profaned and Peripheral
Many people have no interest in the name Jesus, except perhaps as a curse word. They have no interest in Jesus as a Savior, they have not experienced Jesus’ power to change their lives, and they may even question whether Jesus really is who He says He is—but they still find the sound of His name to be a convenient interjection when they are surprised or angry. So they choose to profane the name of the incarnate God, who came to save us from our sins.
Yet it is not only the obvious offenders who profane Jesus’ name. Many people feel some respect for the name of Jesus, but their lives are busy, and so Jesus is ultimately sidelined. After all, there are places to go, people to meet, money to be earned, bills to be paid, and children to be raised. Jesus is just one of many obligations, and certainly not their chief desire. People thus have little awareness that they need to be saved at all, and they ignore the testimony of Jesus’ own name: that He has come to save them.
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The Light of Christ in a World of Darkness

Jesus came into the world to transform us by leading us out of the darkness of self-serving falsehood and into the light of God’s true purpose. And this demands a personal and life-transforming response: Trust Jesus Christ to secure your forgiveness with God and lead you in righteousness for His glory. Divest yourself of control over your own life, and make Him your Lord. Jesus’ death on the cross has made forgiveness possible. 

In his 1939 Christmas broadcast to the British nation, King George VI read from a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”1
While those words were obviously meaningful to George VI and his subjects amid an escalating war with Germany, they still find an echo in the hearts and minds of men and women today. We live in a time of great uncertainty and anxiety. Whether the context is geopolitics, the national economy, clashing worldviews, or even our own family lives, people today are treading into the darkness, looking for some light that will show them the way.
In John 3:19, in His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus shared the good news that we celebrate during the Christmas season: “The light has come into the world.” And the nature of the light is not a philosophy. It’s not a political ideology. It’s not a sentiment or a concept. The light is a person: Jesus Christ. God, in His love, sent Jesus into the world to light our way forward, leading us out of a world of death and into life with Him.
Jesus is the light by which we can see. Or, to use Haskins’s metaphor, He is the hand of God extended to us—better than any would-be light this world might offer. How, then, can we reflect His light in a world of darkness? Let’s consider the answer Jesus Himself gives.
People Love the Darkness
“The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:19–20)
Before we can understand the beauty and power of the light of Christ, we first must understand what separates His light from the darkness all around it.
It’s not normal for burglars to call out from the darkness of the yard, “Excuse me, could you turn the spotlights on? I’m trying to steal from your house!” They’re burglars. They do their work in the dark. The worst thing that can happen to them is for the lights to come on and reveal them. Similarly, the Bible says that apart from Christ, we live our lives in darkness (Eph. 5:8; 1 Peter 2:9).
The darkness of our time is revealed in many different ways, and certainly in intellectual confusion and moral perversion. When people hear Jesus say, “The light has come into the world,” many respond, “That’s very interesting, but I have my own views. I have another light that I look to, and that light is as good as any.” Some have the notion today that beliefs are valid as long as they mean something to somebody.
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One Hope for Our Mass Derangement

Reflecting on the past several decades of Western culture reveals a strategy at play among those driving the revolution. First, there have been efforts to make sure the broader society sympathizes with their struggles—both of a personal and societal nature. (And Christians surely ought to lead the world in sympathy, but only of the Christlike sort.) Second, there was and is a clear desire to normalize homosexuality and transgenderism through media and individuals’ platforms. And third, there has been and continues to be a concerted effort to demonize those who oppose the revolution. Dissenters will be canceled at a high cost.

Writing on the state of Western civilization a little more than a decade ago, English journalist Melanie Phillips observed, “Society seems to be in the grip of a mass derangement.” There’s a “sense that the world has slipped off the axis of reason,” causing many to wonder, “How is anyone to work out who is right in such a babble of ‘experts’ and with so much conflicting information?”
As I started to reread this book recently, I was struck by what’s missing. Phillips writes as an agnostic but observant Jew, and many of her points are profoundly helpful. Noticeably absent from her analysis, though, is any biblical recognition of how the world could’ve gone so haywire (à la Gen. 3)—in the realm of human sexuality.
The subject of sexuality as described and prescribed by Scripture is not just difficult—to address it is also unpopular and in large measure offensive. I come to it with caution and, I hope, with a measure of compassion, but also with the conviction that God’s Word and way are absolutely perfect—and that he knew exactly what he was doing when he put humanity together. Thankfully, one of the passages that speaks most pointedly to how God’s wrath is revealed against sin (Rom. 1:16–28) is both preceded and followed by the amazing offer of God’s grace.
Living in a Runaway World
Paul’s argument in Romans 1 unfolds from his great declaration in verse 16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Why is the gospel for everyone? Because everyone needs the gospel. Each of us is born in the same hopeless and helpless situation: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (v. 18).
Simply put, mankind lives in a runaway world. Some of us like to suggest God is hiding, but we have been the hiders since nearly the beginning of time (Gen. 3:8–10). We “suppress the truth” he’s shown us about himself (Rom. 1:18). We deny he’s made himself clearly known in the universe we inhabit—that “his eternal power and divine nature” (v. 20) are evident all around—and, as a result, we’re utterly “without excuse” (v. 20) when we refuse to worship him or thank him. When we refuse to know God as he’s revealed himself, we don’t give up on worship—we just worship something or someone else. 
Which brings us to the matter of human sexuality—not because it’s a hobbyhorse or because we get some (perverse) sense of satisfaction out of being controversial but because that’s what comes next in God’s Word. If we simply choose the parts of the Bible we like and reject the parts we don’t, we don’t really believe the Bible; we believe ourselves. Why would we ever want to consider a passage like Romans 1 unless we believed Scripture is God’s Word, it’s unerring, and it speaks life-giving truth—even in our 21st-century Western world? We’re not at liberty to rewrite the Bible to accommodate godless perspectives on abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, and the like. We’re not free to tamper with God’s Word.
As we continue reading Paul’s inspired words, it’s clear that having broken our connection with the Creator—who made us purposefully for himself—we struggle to know who we are. As the apostle goes on to explain, when men turned from God toward idols, including the idol of self, God
gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves. . . . God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (vv. 24, 26–27)
The exchange of the normal, natural function of human sexuality for that which is contrary isn’t the first “exchange.” Paul has already described mankind as exchanging “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (v. 23)—the exchange of the Creator God for created idols. We have also “exchanged the truth about God for a lie” (v. 25)—the exchange of knowledge for ignorance.
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3 Reasons for Hope in the Face of Grief and Worry

We can find comfort in knowing that Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3) as we look to him as our example, as we see that he is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), and as we look to him for our eternity. Knowing this is what enables hope to reign in our hearts, even as very real worries and grief exist in our lives.

Most of us are a mixture of emotions and experiences. The good, the bad, and the ugly wash over us regularly. The key issue is what we do with these feelings and experiences.
How does being a believer shape the way in which we view our world, especially when we’re faced with worries and grief?
In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom tells the story of looking forward to her first railway journey. Although her trip was not for many weeks, she would regularly go to her father and ask him if he had the tickets. He would tell her over and over that he did. She realized that her problem was a lack of trust in her dad; she did not believe he would take care of everything. She was worrying that he would lose her ticket and that somehow she would be without it on the day she was to travel. In that lesson, she learned that God gives us the ticket on the day we make the journey and not before. He, of course, is much better at keeping it safe than we are.
In our pilgrimages through heartache, disappointment, the loss of loved ones, and personal failures, we can learn that this is indeed true. Therefore, we must trust him.
On the day we make the journey from time to eternity, if we know Christ, we know he will give us the ticket. If that day is today, then the ticket is on the way. If not, then what is the use in lying awake and letting our emotions control us and our worries crowd in on us? We are not at the mercy of arbitrary, impersonal forces; we are in the hand of our loving God. That brings us to the first reminder that can bring peace during times of trouble.
1. Our Times Are in God’s Hands
But I trust in you, O Lord; I say “You are my God.” My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors! Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love! (Ps. 31:14–16)
“My times are in your hand” is a six-word affirmation to remind Christians that, despite disasters and difficulties, we’re under the care of the Almighty God.
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